Most components suppliers and distributors say they primarily target audience electronics design engineers. Executives at these companies say engineers are the most important customers they aim to serve. The desire to serve design engineers is not in doubt what’s uncertain is how well components vendors and distributors really know what these customers really want.
Just visit the website of any major semiconductor vendor or distributor and it will quickly become clear hardly any other group – aside from investors – seem to matter to these companies. In fact, it’s almost as if no other professional group exist in the electronics design chain and supply chain as far as many chip vendors, interconnects, passives and electromechanical suppliers and distributors are concerned.
They do pay some attention to purchasing and procurement professionals but it's painfully obvious any interests shown in these folks pale in comparison to the fawning attention paid to design engineers. Most of the marketing materials – webinars, video, technical whitepapers -- you’ll see are geared towards engineers. Very few companies in the supply chain make comparable materials for procurement professionals.
With all these attention you would think design engineers are being served extremely well and that component vendors and distributors not only know design folks very well but also understand their needs and are serving them with the best offerings and solutions.
That assumption would be very wrong. In the almost desperate attempt to anticipate the needs of design engineers, it turns out the companies that so much want to cultivate their business may also be omitting the provision of the basic services these professionals sorely need. Design engineers, it turns out, aren’t been quite as well served in certain areas despite the efforts component vendors and distributors put into satisfying them. Sometimes, what’s missing are the most basic services a supplier or distributor could provide.
I’ll reinforce this observation with a real life example. Andreas (last name withheld) is a Swiss electronics engineer I’ve known now for more than 10 years. I see Andreas almost every year or so during trips to Switzerland and each time we meet our conversation drifts to his profession and the persistent difficulty of getting small lot components for his designs.
For years, Andreas consistently complained the distributors he used in Switzerland often tried to make him buy what he didn’t need. Sometimes, they just swamp him and his team in excess information or go overboard trying to impress this design engineer when all he might need from them is simply to have the parts needed for his job delivered on time.
“Sometimes the reps call and talk with you about various services, partnerships and ask ‘do you have problems with pricing’ ” Andreas said. “I take time off my busy schedule and try to be polite by talking with them but I don’t want partnerships and I don’t have problems with pricing. I have problems with order delivery. I just want my parts. Most of the time they just talk and nothing gets done.”
This isn’t a problem common to all engineers. In North America, distributors have learned to give design engineers just what they need while making them aware of other services they can take advantage of, if and when needed. The design engineers I have interacted with often want to be left alone to do their jobs; they’ll call if they need additional services or information.
In Europe, however, design engineers in small countries like Switzerland encounter many problems that in so many ways show the misalignment in the services that some suppliers and distributors provide and the actual needs of their customers. Andreas’ biggest problem over years centered on the failure of the distributors he had used to deliver the small lot components he needed on time. Pricing has never been a major concern for Andreas’ design and development team since they are not involved in volume production and the purchase of large volume of components, he said. For years, Andreas said, “we suffered because parts just didn’t get delivered on time.”
Andreas was a happier design engineer when we met last month. Apparently, Digi-Key Corp. has established a representative office in Switzerland and he now gets needed parts promptly. “It’s a huge change,” Andreas said. “I can’t even describe how much different, how much better it's become since we started using Digi-Key.”
This was quite interesting, I thought. I didn’t want to burst Andreas’ bubble because the parts he orders from Digi-Key are in all likelihood shipped overnight thousands of miles away from the headquarters in Thief River Falls, Minn. and not from Basel, Bern, Geneva or Zurich. He probably doesn’t care either where the parts come from; What’s more important is that they arrive on time, packaged right and that the process doesn’t involve a lot of talking with sales and marketing reps he doesn’t want to engage. For a Swiss used to the predictable punctuality of on-time arrival and departure of trains, nothing could be more pleasing.
That’s all this design engineer wants and he is happy one distributor has figured this out and delivers the exact service needed. Does your company know what its design engineer customers really want or are the sales reps just throwing stuff at the wall hoping something would stick; are you irritating them or truly serving them?
DISCLAIMER: Digi-Key Corp. was not contacted for comments about this article. The company is not currently a customer of Electronics Purchasing Strategies and we are not in any talks with them about advertising on the site.
Bolaji Ojo is editor-in-chief and publisher of Electronics Purchasing Strategies. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone who promises to base his sometimes biased, possibly ignorant, occasionally irrelevant but absolutely stimulating thoughts on the subjective interpretation of verifiable facts alone. Any comments should be sent to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.